Nutrition Articles

Nutrition Tips and Supplements for Insomnia

Dietary Changes for a Better Night's Sleep

Is a good night’s sleep eluding you?
Tossing and turning the whole night through,
Drowsiness, fatigue, a lack of sleep,
There is more help than just counting sheep.

There are many factors that can cause sleep problems, and even more potential solutions. The steps you take to improve your sleeping patterns will be individual, based on the cause of your insomnia and the treatment plan laid out by your health care provider. In addition to the many lifestyle changes that can help you sleep better, the following nutrition tips and supplements may also help improve the quality and quantity of your shut-eye:

Stop eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime. If your body is trying to digest food, you won't be able to fully relax, fall asleep or stay asleep.

Limit: fried and fatty foods, refined carbohydrates (such as white rice, breads, pasta, and sugars), and spicy foods (especially if you are prone to heartburn), especially before bedtime. The effects of these foods can interfere with your ability to get a good night's sleep.

Enjoy a light snack approximately two hours before bedtime, as falling and staying asleep can be difficult if you are hungry. A healthy snack can help take the edge off of your hunger and help you sleep through the night. Your snack should contain mostly carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. This combination may help increase the availability of tryptophan (an amino acid that helps induce sleep) to your brain. A few pre-bedtime snack ideas include:
  • A small bowl of oatmeal
  • Cereal with low-fat milk
  • Yogurt with granola sprinkled on top
  • Half of a bagel topped with peanut butter
  • A piece of whole wheat bread with one slice of deli turkey
  • Six whole-grain crackers with one ounce cheese
  • Sliced apple with one ounce cheese or peanut butter
Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep quickly, but it can disrupt your normal sleep patterns and leave you feeling un-rested the next morning.

Avoid caffeinated drinks and foods during the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate that can delay your sleep or cause you to wake up during the night. You may want to avoid caffeine entirely and see if your sleep improves.

Limit the consumption of liquids in the evening, to decrease the urge to go to the bathroom during the night.

Along with these lifestyle measures, you may wish to consider a natural sleep aid supplement. Supplements should NEVER be taken together or with other sedative drugs. Discuss the appropriateness of these supplements with your doctor first, as well as dosage and the risk of physical and psychological dependency. The two best-researched, most effective supplemental sleep aids are valerian root and melatonin.
  • Valerian root (valeriana officinalis) is a sedative herb that has been used for centuries. Several small studies have suggested that valerian helps people fall asleep and stay asleep. It may take up to four weeks (or more) of usage to notice improvements in sleep, and this herb can leave some people feeling "fuzzy" the next morning. A typical dosage of valerian root is 300-600 milligrams of valerian extract in tablet or capsule form, 30 minutes before bedtime. Always discuss valerian root with your doctor before trying it.
  • Melatonin is a hormone (made in the brain of humans but also produced by animals and plants) that appears to play a critical role in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. So far, the effects of melatonin are complex and poorly-understood, but research shows that it is "possibly effective" in decreasing sleep disturbances caused by jetlag, as well as "likely effective" in easing sleep disorders in blind children and adults, and people with mental retardation, autism, or other central nervous system disorders. There is not enough research to conclude anything about melatonin's effectiveness for other sleep disturbances. Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter, but always discuss melatonin use with your doctor before trying it.
When it comes to treating insomnia, there is insufficient evidence or limited research to support the following supplements:
  • Hops
  • Indian snakeroot
  • Kava
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Passionflower
While nutritional changes and supplements alone are possibilities for curing your insomnia, it's best to take a comprehensive approach. Work with your doctor to find potential underlying causes to your sleeping problems, and create a treatment plan that encompasses lifestyle, diet and exercise changes to help you sleep better.

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Member Comments

    I love a glass of milk before bed
  • Thanks, really need these tips.
  • I'm going to try some of these suggestions Thanks!
  • I give up...I'm just going to have my wife whack the back of my head with a baseball bat to knock me out. I've tried everything else.
  • I have tried Melatonin before and it doesn't do anything for me. A lot of good tips in article.
  • We sometimes forget just how important sleep is. Allow your body to recharge, get enough sleep each evening.
  • Sleep is so important!!!
  • Never had any luck with any kind of sleep aid.
  • None of this works for me. I do not have trouble falling asleep but am plagued with strange and vivid dreams ALL NIGHT long that wake me several times a night and result in my waking in the morning exhausted. Unfortunately, both Valerian Root and Melatonin have vivid and strange dreams as a possible side effect so that is the LAST thing I need! I tried changing my workouts from evening to help. I stop eating two hours before help. I tried prescription help. Oddly enough, on days off if I take a nap in the late afternoon I am usually NOT plagued by these dreams My next step is a Sleep Center. If anyone out there has these symptoms and has found a way to beat it PLEASE let me know!
    Real good article. I like to have a whole grain Thomas' Muffin low fat toasted with natural peanut butter, or Skippy's 60% less sugar chocolate natural peanut butter with Smucker's No Sugar Boysenberry or Simply Fruit Strawberry jam as my "Nod Off" helper! :P
  • I watched an episode of the 'food hospital' on the cooking channel about a guy that used to wake up in the middle of the night and need to eat 'crisps' (chips), cakes and other high calorie foods- they called it 'night eating' or something. In the past, I used to eat at night to help me fall asleep and I have found that the same thing would happen- i'd wake up and want to eat to go back to sleep. BAD cycle! I think that cutting the lesser quality foods from my diet has really helped. I don't wake up in the middle of the night needing a banana, lol (which is usually what my night snack is)!
  • Great article. I have learn something about when you can't sleep what to do.
    This article comes at a very good time for me. I have never had trouble sleeping in my life until the last few months. I am going to take steps outlined here to see if I can get back to a better sleep pattern.
  • I'm going to try the Valerian Root

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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